January 14th, 2021

Sea Shepherd Legal will help countries strengthen protective legislation for sharks and rays in a new project undertaken on behalf of the Secretariat for the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

The project will entail gap analysis of selected countries legislation, the development of legislative guidance and model laws, as well as training material. We are proud to announce that the CMS Secretariat has entrusted Sea Shepherd Legal with this important task, which furthers the conservation work of CMS and its Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks (Sharks MOU) – an international agreement with 48 signatory nations.

Like the oceans in which they live, marine species know no political boundaries and migrate between jurisdictions and beyond them into the high seas. Such migratory marine animals include numerous species of sharks and rays, which play key ecological roles, often as apex predators, in marine ecosystems. However, their unique biology and life history characteristics, in particular long life span and low reproductive rate, make them especially vulnerable to a range of threats - overfishing, both from target and non-target fisheries, habitat degradation, pollution and climate change.[1] Due to their transboundary, migratory behavior, international collaboration is needed for effective conservation.

CMS is a multilateral environmental agreement based on the explicit recognition that “conservation and effective management of migratory species of wild animals require the concerted action of all States within the national jurisdictional boundaries of which such species spend any part of their life cycle”. As such, CMS brings together over a hundred[2] States through which migratory species pass ,laying the legal foundation for internationally coordinated conservation measures across migratory species’ ranges.CMS essentially operates through the listing of species on two “Appendices” – I and II. Appendix I contains endangered species for which CMS Parties are to put in place certain protections. For Appendix II-species, CMS Parties are encouraged to conclude global or regional agreements to benefit these species.

Reflecting the concerning trends in the conservation status of sharks and rays,[3]several migratory species of that group have been added to the CMS Appendices over the last two decades. The Sharks MOU was created in 2010 under the auspices of CMS to help achieve and maintain a favorable conservation status for migratory chondrichthyans.

While the international legal framework established by CMS provides a strong toolset (and incentive) to help improve the conservation status of listed species, to be effective, its provisions must be adopted into national legislation for effective implementation and enforcement. Recognizing this issue, at the most recent CMS “Conference of the Parties”, the Parties adopted a work programme for improving Parties’ national legislation with respect to CMS implementation in general (Decisions 13.20 to 13.23) and shark and ray conservation specifically (Decisions 13.71 to 13.73).

Sea Shepherd Legal’s new project with the CMS Secretariat will contribute to the implementation of these decisions and will build on Sea Shepherd Legal’s previous work to support the CMS Secretariat and its Parties concerning the implementation of CMS’ provisions for a number of threatened shark and cetacean species. The new project covers all sharks and rays listed under CMS.

To conduct this work, Sea Shepherd Legal’s ranks will be temporarily bolstered by Ms. Lauren Lopes, who has previously conducted conservation work for the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) and BirdLife. Ms. Lopes will serve as project coordinator and policy analyst and will be assisted by an additional consultant with experience in international law. We welcome them both to the team!


1Dulvy, NK, Fowler, SL, Musick, JA et al. (2014)Extinction risk and conservation of theworld’s sharks and rays. eLife,3, e00590.

2 As of 10.12.2020, there were 131 Parties toCMS. "Party" means a State or any regional economic integration organization constituted by sovereign States.

3The first assessment of the global conservation status of chondrichthyans (a taxonomic group including sharks, rays and chimeras) in 2014 (Dulvy et al., 2014) estimated that one-quarter of the species were threatened according to IUCN Red List criteria due to overfishing (targeted and incidental) and some regional populations of shark species showed declines up to 96% to >99.9%. A major update of the IUCN Red List in December 2020, which included new or updated assessments for 422 chondrichthyan species (IUCN press release, 10.12.2020; IUCN Shark Specialist Group website), showed that now up to one third of species assessed qualify as endangered.

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